Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Weathervanes is a cautious refinement of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's sound

Release date: 09 June 2023
Jason Isbell - Weathervanes cover
12 June 2023, 09:00 Written by Tom Williams

Weathervanes is Jason Isbell’s first album in over a decade to be produced without Dave Cobb. Isbell's largely going it alone this time, with co-production credits for Matt Pence on five of the thirteen tracks.

While this does lead to alterations from Isbell’s trademark sound (see: the immediate and relentless “Death Wish” and the classic-rock homage “This Ain’t It”), the trademark qualities that originally drew listeners to Isbell’s music are still readily apparent on Weathervanes. In fact, in many ways, Weathervanes is the platonic ideal of a Jason Isbell album – a demonstration of the ease with which the former Drive-By Trucker can do all the things we already knew he can do: weave tales of hopelessness, addiction and endurance into rousing alt-rock anthems again and again and again.

Opener and lead single “Death Wish” joins the canon of Isbell's songs about addiction, although in contrast with previous songs like “It Gets Easier” or “If It Takes A Lifetime”, the song is sung from a third-person perspective. In the hands of a less capable songwriter, this would lead to a sense of distance and detachment, but Isbell achingly captures the anxiety and helplessness of watching someone act recklessly under the influence.

The best songs on Weathervanes capture the collective unease of a nation reeling from the pandemic, growing violence and heightened division. “Middle of the Morning” is a captivating and critical self-portrait of adjusting to “a thousands days alone” during lockdown. The song’s imagery is vivid and concerning - of our narrator lashing out at loved ones and said loved ones becoming scared of him. It feels as though it was written on the brink of a breakdown. The intimate and delicate “Strawberry Woman”, meanwhile, effectively captures the crushing weight of the mundane (“It hurts to move / And it hurts to learn”).

Though Weathervanes does further push the boundaries of the 400 Unit’s sound, Isbell’s ninth LP is a cautious refinement rather than a reinvention for the Americana icon – and as he explores a familiar set of themes, the lyrics can sometimes feel as though they could have been directly pulled from the cutting room floor of previous studio sessions. The LP’s best song, “Save the World”, is different – grounded by the horrors of the Uvalde school shooting in 2022, it’s a song that Isbell could only have written now. It captures the terror of a nation riddled with gun violence – of being so scared to send your children to school that it renders you speechless, and of being triggered by the sound of a “balloon popping at the grocery store”. Looking for some semblance of comfort, Isbell sings in the chorus, “Swear you’ll save the world when I lose my grip”. Like the best Isbell songs, “Save The World” is about the wreckage of the modern world, but also, how we carry each other through such a wreckage.

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